The military is looking at ways cyber effects and forces can be employed differently in the future, integrated more tactically than at the current strategic level.

For example, forces in the future could execute both offensive and defensive operations as opposed to the current construct of teams only focused on one or the other.

“Right now we have teams that look at defense, we have teams that look at offense, almost like a football team. Maybe a better concept is we set up like a hockey team or a basketball team where everybody plays both ways at the same time,” Ignatius Liberto, chief of staff at Cyber Command’s operational global defense arm Joint Force Headquarters-DoD Information Networks, told Fifth Domain May 16 at the AFCEA Defensive Cyber Operations symposium in Baltimore, Maryland.

Initially, there were those who thought keeping offense and defense separate might be more effective.

“I think there was in the past the thought that we needed to keep them separate and it would be more effective that way, but it is actually the reverse,” Capt. James Mills, chief of staff Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet, said at the Baltimore conference.

“You can actually amplify the capability by that linkage … you’re better as an offensive side if you understand the defensive characteristics and better as a defender if you understand the offensive capabilities. We’ve seen that and it’s been proven.”

Ultimately, senior leaders discovered teaching cyber warriors to joint standards had greater benefits.

“The first thing you want to do is be careful about saying it’s one or the other. I do think that there’s a benefit and an advantage ... that one might inform the other,” Rear Adm. T.J. White, then commander of the Cyber National Mission Force at Cyber Command (and selected as the next commander of Fleet Cyber Command), said in September.

“There’s a lot that we’ve learned in anticipating what you might have to do on the offense by understanding very, very well what is going on with the defense.”

Leaders have also begun to discover that concepts in the physical world can be applied in cyberspace as well.

“You don’t train an infantryman to go on the attack only: you train the infantryman who can do defense and offense and adapt to whatever situation they’re put into,” Maj. Gen. John Morrison, commander of the Army Cyber Center of Excellence, said.

“That’s the same construct we’re taking with our cyber operators … we have developed a curriculum that trains a cyber operator. Not an offensive cyber operator, not a defensive cyber operator, a cyber operator.”

Getting war fighters comfortable

One of the biggest impediments to employing these tactics and capabilities, leaders said, is systems that might not be interoperable, interchangeable or make war fighters feel uncomfortable.

“The technology currently is always going to continue to increase … However, the biggest difference will be how quickly our formations can adapt that technology and utilize it to our best effects,” Brig. Gen. Stephen Hager, deputy commander of operations for the Cyber National Mission Force at Cyber Command, said at the same symposium May 17.

“So while the technology always changes and the paradigm’s going to be there, we need to have an agile workforce that can adapt and utilize it when you want to mix offense and defense.”

War fighters need to feel comfortable with interfaces in order to be successful in launching operations.

“The biggest thing is keep it simple. All the hardware and software needs to be as interoperable as possible so you can go back and forth between missions,” Gregg Kendrick, executive director at Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command, said.

“Great GUIs [graphical user interfaces] in the end state [are needed] because ... it’s going to be at least two generations before we’re completely comfortable with the technology.”

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.